Leeds GATE

Working to improve the quality of life for Gypsies and Travellers

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167-169 Cross Green Lane,
Leeds LS9 0BD

Telling our story

Ben Chastney's picture
By Ben Chastney |  May 28, 2014 |

What's your story?We sadly know all too well that most media about Gypsy and Travellers is overwhelmingly negative and inaccurate. Whether a tabloid article decrying the presence of a roadside camp to the Channel 4 ‘Gypsy Wedding’ series, it appears hard to avoid encountering such items of questionable truth and hostile intent. Particularly when these items are often the primary sources of ‘information’ many in the general public receive it is understandable, though not entirely excusable, if there is some misunderstanding about the community.

True, there are some more helpful and detailed viewpoints offered by some in the media. Katherine Quarmby’s excellent ‘No place to call home’, previously mentioned or more local publications such as Peter Saunders’ photo driven book (Gypsies and Travellers in their Own Words) show that positive and informative stories can be told. I see two reasons for their success. Firstly, constructive intent. Not simply an automatically positive predisposition but rather an open mindedness and desire to paint a balanced picture of people’s actual lives. This ties closely to the second key point; letting people tell their own stories. The value of these books and other good ones about Gypsies and Travellers is the voices and images provided from the community themselves.

It would of course be naïve to assume that this all so important constructive intent is lacking from the less positive media sources by accident. Either out of genuinely hostile political intent or cynical assumption that bad stories sell better, many such papers or TV will not simply change tone soon. Whilst we must all continue to challenge negative media output, as has successfully occurred, providing vibrant, exciting stories will encourage a more positive, or at least balanced, angle. We have seen some related successes, with local media picking up our good news stories and other instances of moderating the overall tone of a piece having spoken to our members. Relying on the mainstream media alone remains insufficient though and it is important to find ways to these stories ourselves.

With respect to creating our own media there are reasons to be positive. That the Travellers Times is again printing paper copies is one example that Gypsy and Travellers are increasingly finding ways to continue to tell their stories. New social media, whilst presenting its own sources of negative viewpoints, provides exciting opportunities to promote more positive stories and challenge untruths. GATE for example puts videos on YouTube which are hopefully of interest both to our members and those outside of the community. We are not alone in these efforts. Other Gypsy and Traveller organisations similarly promote stories and viewpoints through their websites or local events.

Upcoming Gypsy and Traveller History Month provides one such clear opportunity to celebrate, educate and share. Whilst we are continually recording, reflecting and researching to ensure that history is not lost, it is of course during such events where we can most powerfully bring this information to the attention of each other and beyond. Informing people about the community’s history has value here and now. By helping the public recognise the positive contributions Gypsies and Travellers, to culture, society, trade, etc. they will better recognise contributions being made now and in the future.

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